I'm Still Thinking ....
Usually the idea of ticking makes me think of clocks, but the other day it made me think of something else: ticking fabric--that blue and white striped fabric that was used to make pillows. It was stiff and scratchy but that wasn't the worst of it. Those pillows were lumpy and filled with feathers, real feathers that were likely to poke through the fabric now and then. Once a poked-out feather was discovered there was only one way to deal with the situation. It had to be pulled completely out since there was no way to stuff such a feather back into the interior of the pillow.
Goose feathers were the height of luxury in pillows, but my family didn't have goose down available. Our pillows were more likely to be filled with chicken feathers. I have seen such pillows being made or refreshed with the feathers of the chicken that went in the kettle for Sunday dinner. Grandma knew how to catch the chicken, kill it, scald it and pluck its feathers off. Wet feathers have a pretty distinctive smell, so I'm sure they had to be dried somehow before they went into pillows but I don't remember how she did that step.
I do have a mind picture of the final step. It's Grandma, laughing and sputtering, with feathers floating around her head and clinging to her arms up to the elbows as she gently stuffed handfuls of them into a ticking pillow, taking care not to break any of the spines of the feathers if she could help it. She knew as well as I do that a broken feather is a set-up for a poked-out feather.
Chicken feathers are generally tougher and coarser than goose down and thus a poked-out feather was capable of producing a lacerated scalp in the middle of the night. That's the way I remember pillows from childhood, but the world has changed since those days.
Thankfully, technology has stepped into the industry of pillow construction, so now I sleep on an extraordinary contraption, a gel, foam, and who-knows-what-else concoction with no lumps and absolutely no feathers poking out.
I only have memories so it's hard to form a reliable opinion. Which kind of pillow is better: one made by Grandma's loving hands or one made by an unfeeling machine? Either way the desired outcome is sleeping peacefully and waking refreshed and energized, ready to investigate the potentials of another day.
Night, night . . .
I don't need a calendar to answer that question. Today is the day the miller moths arrive--all of them at once, fully grown, overnight. Well before dawn I knew they were here, tapping against window panes and tussling with window shades, in search of a light bulb or a candle. My plan to sleep in a bit later wasn't possible in the midst of that commotion.
I got up to deal with the situation, using a tried and true method that I learned years ago from an aunt who liked to sit in peace on the screened-in porch and gaze out over the wheat fields without having to dodge dive-bombing millers. Here is how to deal with millers:
1. Put an inch or two of water and several drops of dish soap in a shiny cake pan.
2. Hold the pan a foot or so under a lamp or overhead light fixture (be careful on the ladder).
Apparently millers can't tell the difference between the source of light and the reflection in the pan. They will take their final dive into the cake pan and be unable to shake the soap suds off their wings. Your reward will be the thrill of the kill and soothing peace and quiet.
Millers don't have such an easy life. Death by drowning or swatting, assassination by an agile cat, mutilation by an evil child with a pair of manicure scissors--potential perils are everywhere and NOBODY LIKES THEM! Yet, they face their circumstances bravely and flourish . . . well, the ones who aren't tricked by a mere illusion of light anyway.
Annoying as they are, millers are pretty good role models.
It is such a wonderful sound, that thunderous, cracking, splitting that releases the aroma and reveals the sweet red flesh of a watermelon--at least we hope it's sweet. Even with all the thumping, the folk lore, the stem inspection, the advice and consultation with other shoppers--even with all that, picking a good watermelon isn't always guaranteed.
It's getting easier though, because watermelons are helping us. They're getting more uniform, more predictable and they don't have seeds. All of that is a boon for the shopper and greatly reduces the risk of getting a bad watermelon but I'm having nostalgic thoughts about watermelons from my past.
Some of the varieties of watermelons I remember are getting scarce, maybe still available in rural areas but rarely making it to the city. Some were fat and slightly more oval than round with brilliant emerald green skins, filled with neat rows of shiny black seeds. I haven't seen a melon like that in a long time, but the size and shape of a slice of it is still depicted on paper plates and other seasonal home décor. Adults admonished us not to eat the seeds lest a watermelon would grow in our bellies. I wasn't sure I believed that but I learned the proper breath-propelled seed spitting technique and won a few contests against my cousins. I miss the thrill of sitting on the porch on a hot summer afternoon with a slice of melon in hand, drooling juice down my chin and spitting the seeds as far as I can. Seedless watermelons just don't offer that kind of joy.
Now and then I see a Black Diamond watermelon, the kind that Grandma used the rind for when she took a notion to make watermelon pickles. What could be more festive than a 4th of July picnic with a yellow-meated watermelon? I wonder if I'll ever see one of those again.
I fondly remember oblong striped watermelons with one end larger than the other, floating in some sort of vat of chilled water, an old unused soda pop chest at a gas station, maybe even a cattle tank outside the grocery store. Some of those melons were HUGE: a couple of them could adequately feed a family reunion. Others were more modest in size and if you brought one home for dinner, the remainder might fit in the refrigerator until tomorrow.
I do have a sense of how difficult it might be to ship a bunch of oblong melons of all different sizes that won't fit together in neat stacks. Today's uniform sized and shaped melons are probably easier to stack and ship and grandmas' porches aren't covered with sticky seeds that draw millions of ants overnight.
There's something to be said for efficiency and all the things that make life easier and ensure profits for retailers. But, progress also always means that something else has been left behind except in memory.
I see Daddy with his sleeves rolled up, plunging his arms deep into a vat of icy water to retrieve a perfect watermelon, and I hear my mother's voice: "That looks like a good one."
Thump, thump . . .
The other day as I was leaving for work my husband said, "Darling, you look so retro. I love you."
It was a compliment but it left me puzzled. Is this wardrobe commentary? The pink silk shirt I had on has been in my closet for a while but it hasn't been THAT long. Buying retro fashion at an upscale re-sale shop is an act of choice, a deliberate intent to wear a mini skirt or a prairie dress again and I don't have the urge for that kind of shopping. Maybe there's something else--something about my temperament? I looked at the possible links: retro--backwards--retrograde?
I was once told by my physician that I had retrograde adolescence, hormonally speaking. I'm pretty sure I've outgrown that by now. I know that machinery sometimes has to be retro-fitted if it's not totally up to par. I'm mostly up to par these days.
Well then, what is it, this retro thing? It might be the struggle that sometimes manifests itself when retro thoughts collide with modern reality. I have a FaceBook page and I'm also hanging on to my retro idea of friends. I'm steadfast with my definition of a conversation, that it involves verbal expression, not typing. I like chatting with the bank teller I've known for years and I just don't know how I would keep that relationship alive if all I had was an app.
I'm don't live in the past and yet the past has come with me. I live in the present and I will move into the future without leaving important things behind. It's not easy, looking in both directions at once, forward and backward.
My sewing machine is sounding unhappy. I've had it for nearly forty years. I don't know how old that is in sewing machine years but fortunately the unhappy noises aren't due to elderly status. It just wants to be cleaned and oiled and will then carry on like it always has--almost purring.
This machine is no fancy-schmancy model, nothing like the whiz-kid sewing machines that are on the market today. Oh no, this is a workhorse of a machine, all metal parts, not a bit of plastic on it anywhere, never given me a bit of trouble! There's a lot to be said for durability.
Friends have chided me and suggested I should get in the 21st century and get a new sewing machine. I just can't do it. I thought the same thing about my grandmas' machines when I was a child. My mother had an electric machine but both grandmas clung to their treadle machines. I wondered why they didn't want to update. Now I get it.
Durability and familiarity might be part of the reason, but I've realized there's something else about sewing machines that's even more important. It's not the machine--it's all the memories of all the garments and objects that we've constructed together: dinky dresses for my daughter, a wedding gown, kitchen curtains, ruffled bell bottom pants that Cher would have envied, oodles of quilts, even tried my hand at a pair of men's pajamas one time, but somehow I got the fly sewn in all wrong. That made for a great piece of family mythology.
Yep, I'm content with my ancient sewing machine. Just being old is not a good enough reason to be replaced. There's so much to be said for durability and memories.